May 2022

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

DIRECTOR: David Yates


Daniel Racliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Evanna Lynch, Bonnie Wright, Tom Felton, Helena Bonham Carter, Jason Isaacs, Helen McCrory, Jim Broadbent, John Hurt, Warwick Davis, Ciaran Hinds, Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson, Miriam Margoyles


All things must come to an end.  After ten years and eight movies, one of the most successful fantasy series ever committed to page or screen has reached a solid and satisfying conclusion with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. With the arrival of the finishing installment, Part 1 is shown even more as exposition and precursor.  Part 2 is all meat, an intense, emotional, rollicking ride that brings the beloved series to a fitting destination.

We pick up at the perilous point where Part 1 left off, with Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) raiding Dumbledore’s tomb for the Elder Wand he believes will make him invincible, and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) continuing their trek to hunt down and destroy the last of the Horcruxes containing the pieces of Voldemort’s soul that preserve his immortality.  With the help of Dumbledore’s estranged brother Aberforth (Ciaran Hinds), they sneak back into Hogwarts, which is now controlled by Death Eaters led by new Headmaster Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), where Harry believes one of the Horcruxes is hidden.  But Voldemort is aware of Harry’s return home, and issues an ultimatum to the students and faculty to turn Potter over.  When they elect to stand and fight, the stage for the final battle is decided.

Part 2 starts with the convoluted search for the Horcruxes, the histories of which are complicated enough to be a challenge for even fans to keep track of,  but unlike Part 1, it at least has a far more enthralling climax it is heading toward, and roughly halfway through, the battle of Hogwarts begins, leading up to the long-awaited, inevitable final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort.  Screenwriter Steve Kloves, responsible for adapting every book in the series to the screen with the exception of Half-Blood Prince, has pruned some elements, specifically the Dumbledore-Grindelwald backstory, the fate of Wormtail, and Rita Skeeter’s biography.  One will have to read the book to get the full story of Dumbledore’s sister, who is only mentioned in passing in the film.  Certain aspects of the final battle, specifically the Harry-Voldemort confrontation, is drawn-out and embellished to be more cinematically dramatic.  However, despite a passing resemblance, they do not turn the Battle of Hogwarts into a Battle of Helm’s Deep wannabe.  The fighting mostly takes place in the background, with the focus staying on Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  Most of the key moments are faithfully included, such as Molly Weasley’s fan-favorite line.  There are other memorable moments not related to the battle, including an early mission where Hermione drinks polyjuice potion to disguise herself as Bellatrix Lestrange that gives Helena Bonham Carter a chance to vary up her performance a little.  There is a journey through the underground vaults that brings to mind the mine chase in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and the visual effects, particularly the goblins’ makeup and a dragon, are excellent (the dragon is much better than the one in Goblet of Fire).

At the same time, the filmmakers crucially do not lose focus on the character moments.  In fact, easily the most affecting moment of the film is the unfurling of Snape’s memories, which reveal the final twist after the twist that seemed to expose his true loyalties, and expose him as a far more complex and ultimately tragic figure than either Harry or the readers had imagined.  This sequence is wrenching enough to bring tears to the eyes, and is the most emotionally forceful and striking moment Part 2 has to offer.  In fact, it might be the most affecting scene in the entire series.  There are moments for fans to cheer and cry for.  During the final battle, characters used to being on the sidelines, like Neville (Matthew Lewis) and Molly (Julie Walters) get moments of heroism, and Harry’s journey comes to an emotional crescendo as he is forced to confront his own mortality.

Daniel Radcliffe has to shoulder this installment more than ever before, as everything that is asked and demanded of Harry is brought to a head, and the young actor proves up to the challenge.  Radcliffe has grown up with this role for his entire acting career and half of his life, and glimpsed flashbacks of his young self from the series’ beginnings remind us of how far he’s come.  Rupert Grint and Emma Watson don’t have as much demanded of them, but provide solid support.  Of the supporting cast, Ralph Fiennes is chilling (albeit a little over-the-top) as the increasingly brutal Voldemort, and Alan Rickman is able to finally bring closure and context to his ambiguous portrayal of Snape.  No one else has much screentime; distinguished thespians like John Hurt and Ciaran Hinds are on hand for a scene or two of exposition, and there is a dual role by Warwick Davis, cameo walk-ons by Michael Gambon and Gary Oldman, and blink-and-you’ll-miss-them appearances by Emma Thompson and Miriam Margoyles.

Part 2 does much more right than it does wrong, but it’s not a perfect motion picture.  The casualties during the battle include a number of recurring characters, but they are treated as throwaway moments and lack the earth-shattering impacts they had in the book.  And did the filmmakers forget altogether about Wormtail?  Despite attempts to embellish it for ‘cinematic’ purposes, the Harry-Voldemort final showdown feels anti-climactic, but the same was true of the book.  Harry’s relationship with Ginny (Bonnie Wright) is given only perfunctory attention with one brief kiss, and we never really feel attached to this couple because it’s so underdeveloped.  Our only rooting interest is in the trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  The age makeup on Radcliffe, Grint, Watson, and Wright in the ’19 years later’ epilogue is shaky.  It’s tricky to try to make actors this young whose appearances we know so well look convincingly middle-aged, with Grint the most convincing, Wright adequate, Radcliffe’s age makeup looking a little silly, and Watson leaving me wondering if the makeup department just forgot about her.

But these are minor quibbles.  Deathly Hallows Part 2 had the monumental task of bringing a beloved, long-running fantasy series to an end in a manner that would enthrall the general audience and satisfy avid fans, and it has succeeded on both counts.  The movie is enthralling, thrilling, mature, complex, ambitious, emotional, and satisfying, and even in spite of not-entirely-convincing age makeup, the epilogue brings that nostalgic lump to the throat as we bid our final farewell to characters we have followed for ten years, seven books, and eight movies.  Harry Potter has grown up and moved on, and so too now must we.  David Yates and his cast and crew have done the franchise justice by bringing it to a solid and satisfying conclusion, and that in itself is a considerable accomplishment.